Breaker Breaker: CB Needs A Revival!

CB radio is an endangered form of radio communications, at least here in the United States where so many other forms of communications have replaced it. There was a time, 15 to 20 years, ago that a drive up or down I-95 on the east coast would churn up a lot of communication across the CB channels and this was in the twilight years of CB. Families travelling together could be heard chit-chatting from vehicle to vehicle. Truckers would be on certain channels talking shop. You could get information on traffic, accidents, detours, weather and police speed traps; you could receive directions when you were lost or just have a good conversation with your fellow motorists. Of course you still had your element of pranksters and younger bulls on the radio that used it for their own amusement harassing those who dared step onto their particular channel. The overall majority of users, however, utilised their CB for much needed information, friendly chats and effective communication. Imagine that, motorists communicating with each other. It may be totally unrelated but I don’t remember as much road rage or confusion on the roadways when CB was still alive and well in vehicles.

For those of you unfamiliar with CB radio I will give a little insight into the system without turning this into a history lesson or a lecture on radio-physics. The Class D Citizen’s Band service also known as 11 metre radio (due to its wavelength) originated on September 11, 1958 in the United States. The roots of CB radio actually go back to Class A and Class B CB services originating circa 1945; Class A CB being a forerunner of the current GMRS system in the UHF band of frequencies.  The CB we all know here in the United States, United Kingdom and in Canada (where it is known as the General Radio Service) operates in the HF band of frequencies ranging from 26.965MHz to 27.405MHz spanning across 40 channels all of which, save for channels 1, 2 and 3, operate in the 27MHz area. For the last few decades CB radios have no longer required a license making it available to anyone who had the means to purchase one and enough time to install it in their vehicle or connect it to a power supply in their home. All Class D CB radios legally output 4 watts in AM (amplitude modulation) ground wave propagation and up to 12 watts in SSB (single sideband) mode for longer “sky-wave” or ionospheric propagation. The use of illegal linear amplifiers to increase power outputs became a normal occurrence during the golden years of CB throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s and even though the use of CB has declined dramatically over the last two decades many of those using CB actively eventually go seeking for a way of amplifying their transmission power regardless of what the law dictates. The majority of CB radios I see installed in vehicles, and it’s a rare sight today in Florida, do not have SSB mode neither are they illegally amplified; most users opting for inexpensive basic models with magnet mount antennas.

During Citizen Band’s “Golden Age” throughout the entire 1970s and into the early 1980s these radios could be found in the overall majority of vehicles. Those travelling the highways of America today will find nothing but static and empty space emitting from the speaker on their CB radio. Even here in my apartment not far from an extremely busy interstate in Central Florida I scan the CB channels for hours upon hours on a wideband receiver and rarely if ever hear the slightest bit of chatter on the waves. On long road trips I’ve scanned over the CB frequencies continuously only to hear a faint crackle of popcorn noise out of the speaker every other hour or so. Some of you reading this may think the writer foolish because in their respective area CB usage seems abundant and I hope this to be true and I am aware of small pockets of operation in some of the rural parts of the nation even here in Florida, but it is unfortunately a dying breed. CB radio is on its last legs technologically speaking.

After a long time working with sound, i.e. music, sonar and audio engineering I fell deeper and deeper into the radio electronics world leaving, albeit temporarily, my love of acoustics for a new love of electromagnetism.  Now to someone studied in maritime and aviation communications and other forms of commercial and military radio as I was becoming, the CB was always the “redneck cousin” of the radio family. After all, maritime and aviation communications has a true purpose and CB was just for truck-drivers picking up dates at truck stops and motorists warning each other about police speed traps on the highways; it had no significant use anyway. So why then do I miss CB radios? Why do I miss seeing the long wire “whip” antennas bouncing and swaying on their spring coils off the back of Jeeps and pickup trucks? Why would I care about the disappearance of this “pointless” form of radio? Because I have realised how ignorant I was and my initial thoughts and judgements of CB radio were wrong. Maybe the association of CB radios with redneck folks with their rebel flags and pickup trucks created feelings of resentment. Maybe it was because I hated the movie Smokey And The Bandit and had the misfortune of watching it as a child. Maybe it was my elitist attitude that made me feel above that form of communication. Whatever the reasons I have realised CB once had a true purpose and still has an important role to play; it has earned its place in the larger radio family.

As newer and more “modern” forms of communications became available to the consumer, less and less CB radios were purchased. Truckers switched to private programmable land-mobile VHF and UHF radios. Everyday motorists began investing in “car phones” and later cellular phones. For those more serious about radio, amateur radio was the way to go after getting licensed. Now a mixture of cellular or mobile phones, so-called smart technology, satellite communications, amateur radios and business radios all of which private and isolated from each other have replaced CB radio in automobiles. In this generation of never-ending streams of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy series “smart-phones” it can be argued that there isn’t much reason for CB radios anymore, in fact, it can be argued that there isn’t much reason for most recreational or public service radios any longer. I will wholeheartedly disagree with this and do so without knocking “smart technology”. We have more forms of communications technology at our disposal than ever before in the short history of human existence yet we are more isolated communicatively from one another than ever before.

Every form of radio technology has its special place in the greater family: cellular phones or smart phones have so many practical advantages and are a product of our current convergence technology age for daily communications; business and land-mobile radios have their use with commercial industries as well as police and emergency authorities; amateur radios for the hobbyist and experimenter; CB radio belongs on the road. It was intended as the form of mobile public radio communications and did its job beautifully for decades upon decades. I truly believe CB has a place as the great equaliser of the radio world. The middle child that bridges the gaps in communication in a larger family and brings others together, but much like that proverbial middle child the CB radio has been ignored and its overall importance to the family often overlooked. Believe me though, the CB radio is important, more important than most realise, including myself up until more recently.

If a CB radio were installed in every vehicle on the road it would open a form of communication missing in every car and truck on the road. It could be used as a primary for emergency communications in times of natural disasters or utilised for traffic information for construction work, detours and reports on accidents. The majority of modern CB radios also supply weather channels keeping you in touch with weather emergencies and local weather reports. As an ancillary system it will keep you in touch with fellow roadsters when and if needed.  As it is now without knowledge of the phone numbers of every motorist on the road, how would you get a hold of the driver next to you? Well, of course, you could always throw pebbles at a window (not easy to do at 60mph) or try shouting at the top of your lungs (nevermind the Doppler effect), or you could simply switch on the CB radio to channel 19 and see if they have their “ears on”.

The CB radio does not require a license and being “channelised” it is quite easy to operate. The installation however important is very easy as well. With our dependency on duplex forms of communications, e.g. cell phones, the slightest foul weather could and has crippled communications in the past and will again in the future. Your precious iPhone can be rendered useless in a hurricane or flood setting. A CB radio is self-contained and does not rely on outside sources, save for its own antenna, to transmit and receive. As long as your CB is installed in your vehicle properly and maintained over the years it will continue to serve you and your loved ones. No monthly or annual fees, and no data plans just power it up, attach an antenna and talk away. The biggest factor in getting CB radios back into vehicles is just plain communication on the road. We have isolated ourselves and through isolation we breed ignorance and ignorance begets fear, confusion, mistrust and hatred. We are all alone together it seems on the highways of America. CB stands the chance of reuniting us if only when on the road and proper and effective communications is one of the most important things in the known universe.

I do not expect every American or British or Canadian citizen to go out and buy a CB radio and start chatting away on it. I do not think a CB radio replaces a cellular or mobile phone anymore than a cell phone can replace a CB radio. Whether you be an Amateur radio operator or working on a company land-mobile radio I believe they are equally important siblings in the radio family each with its specific purposes. Just as we attempt to conserve endangered animal and plant species and make an attempt to keep endangered languages alive we should do so with particular forms of radio communication. With the loss of things as simple as the CB radio it causes a rift in the communications world. Half-duplex or ITU simplex technology like that utilised in CB equipment is crucial when the lights go out and the storms roll in. This may seem a strong statement but I believe so goes the CB radio then so goes Amateur radio and so goes GMRS and all other forms of simplex communications until we are at the mercy of cellular technology, corporate enterprises, and huge monthly bills. However fantastic the smart technology seems and effective it may be it is worthless without its reliance on other technology, which is reliant on other technology ad infinitum. You can help get Americans talking again, keep the world talking again simply by purchasing a CB radio and antenna system and installing it in your respective vehicle and use it to your heart’s desire. Help keep the Citizen’s Band Service alive in your respective nation. Thank you. – Packie, KY3I

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